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February 11, 2004

STUPID PEOPLE: Prof. Robert Brandon, chair of the Philosophy Department at Duke, defended his department's lack of intellectual diversity by quoting John Stuart Mill to the effect that conservatives are disproportionately stupid, and hence naturally underrepresented in academia.

Eugene Volokh points out that Brandon was misrepresenting Mill. Volokh: "If some liberal professors (who are probably pretty far from 1860s Liberals) want to express their contempt for conservatives (who are probably pretty far from 1860s Conservatives), then it seems to me that they shouldn't call on John Stuart Mill to support their prejudices." Read the whole thing.

UPDATE: Prof. Jim Lindgren, law professor at Northwestern University and director of the Demography of Diversity Project, is doing empirical research on conservatives and liberals in academia, and has some thoughts. They're kind of long, so click "more" to read them. It'll be worth your time.

Lindgren writes:

The article in the Duke Chronicle is interesting on the implications of a survey of faculty voter registration, which purports to show that across several Duke departments 142 faculty are registered as Democrats, compared to only 8 Republicans. Some Duke faculty members suggest that it makes little difference, since they are comfortable with the level of intellectual diversity at Duke.

Yet consider a thought experiment: imagine that the numbers were reversed and Duke's faculty in the humanities or social sciences had 17 times more Republicans than Democrats. Would the education, research, and mentoring still be broad enough to make the existing Duke faculty feel that viewpoint diversity was not a problem? I doubt it.

The most questionable explanation in the article is that of Duke philosophy chair, Robert Brandon:

"If, as John Stuart Mill said, stupid people are generally conservative, then there are lots of conservatives we will never hire. Mill's analysis may go some way towards explaining the power of the Republican party in our society and the relative scarcity of Republicans in academia. Players in the NBA tend to be taller than average. There is a good reason for this. Members of academia tend to be a bit smarter than average. There is a good reason for this too."

Yet Republicans in the general public tend to be better educated than Democrats. In the 1994-2002 General Social Surveys (GSS), Republicans have over 6/10ths of a year more education on average than Democrats. Republicans also have a higher final mean educational degree. Further, Republicans scored better than Democrats on two word tests in the GSS--a short vocabulary test and a modified analogies test.

If one breaks down the data by party affiliation and political orientation, the most highly educated group is conservative Republicans, who also score highest on the vocabulary and analogical reasoning tests. Liberal Democrats score only insignificantly lower than conservative Republicans. The least educated subgroups are moderate and conservative Democrats, who also score at the bottom (or very near the bottom) on vocabulary and analogy tests.

The irony here is that if there were substantial numbers of Republican political scientists, psychologists, and sociologists at Duke and other elite schools, Professor Brandon might already know that in the United States, the two most similar groups in educational attainment and verbal proficiency are liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans--and that ordinary, non-liberal Democrats are among the least educated political groups.

Interesting. It's no doubt embarrassing for a professor of philosophy to be so corrected by two law professors.

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